Monday 19 November 2018

Further education and training - the road less travelled

Maria Walshe, Communications Manager, SOLAS - The Further Education and Training Authority, says students can reap huge benefits from different learning environments

Maria Walshe
Maria Walshe

We are living in the era of FOMO (fear of missing out) and our young people love to live busy, exciting lives with as many different experiences as they can manage. This can translate into the choices made beyond second level education. Often the scramble is which third level course to choose as opposed to the different education routes there are and which one works best for them.

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People learn in different ways and some students can reap huge benefits from different learning environments. The Further Education and Training sector offers a different learning experience such as smaller class sizes on a Post Leaving Certificate (PLC) course or learning on-the-job through apprenticeships and traineeships.

An apprenticeship in Ireland has traditionally been the path to skilled occupations in a range of industries and sectors such as construction, engineering, motor and electrical. Recently an expanded model of apprenticeship has been introduced, in which a wider range of occupations are attracting more people into apprenticeships.

Since 2016 the range of apprenticeship options in Ireland has extended into areas like insurance practice, electrical engineering, polymer processing, manufacturing engineering, international financial services, hospitality, accounting and the recently announced chef apprenticeship. And there are many more on the way.

The aim is to have more than 70 types of apprenticeships available by 2020 leading to qualifications from NFQ Levels 6-9, or equivalent. Apprentices are employed by a SOLAS-approved employer for the duration of the programme which is generally between two to four years. The key benefit of an apprenticeship is the opportunity to earn while you learn and getting into employment earlier can mean there's lots of potential to progress.

A traineeship gives participants the opportunity to develop cutting edge skills and knowledge on the job, making them more employable. Traineeships also enable employers to access a pipeline of talent and learners. The training content and occupational standards for traineeships are developed in consultation with employers, trade unions, regulatory bodies and interest groups. Currently, there are more than 30 traineeship programmes available around the country across a range of industry areas including aviation, IT, animation, hospitality and digital marketing. This number will increase with the development of more traineeships across a range of industries and sectors. All traineeships lead to an award at NFQ Levels 4-6, or equivalent and are six to 20 months in duration.

PLC courses also offer a variety of benefits for school leavers. The PLC programme is the largest of the full-time further education and training programmes with over 30,000 places. These one to two-year programmes offer NFQ awards at Levels 5 and 6. PLC courses are not accessed via the Central Applications Office. Interested students can apply directly to the colleges.

These programmes can equip students with the necessary skills for the workplace. Research by the Economic and Social Research Institute confirmed the positive role played by PLC provision. On average PLC learners are 16pc more likely to be in employment than if they had just entered the labour market straight after the Leaving Certificate.

In addition, many students who take up PLCs decide to continue studies upon completion and these courses can act as a stepping stone to third-level study. Many universities, colleges and Institutes of Technology have programmes in place to recognise further education and training qualifications as a route to entry. If a student completes a PLC programme with good results, they have a good chance of securing a reserved place on a third level course. A database of such linked programmes is available on

There are also a number of successful collaborations between further education colleges and third level institutes for students interested in progressing. The City of Dublin Education and Training Board has been working with Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI), Trinity College Dublin, UCD, Dublin Institute of Technology and Engineers Ireland to develop a QQI Special Purpose Award Maths for STEM Level 5 award. This programme facilitates students who wish to progress to STEM degree programmes in higher education, including science, engineering and other mathematically driven degree programmes.

Robert Frost, the poet who often appears as part of Leaving Certificate English syllabus wrote :

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,

I took the one less travelled by,

And that has made all the difference.


For some students the difference that an education through an apprenticeship, traineeship or PLC offers can make all the difference for their future careers.


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